The whitetail fraternity lost a true icon Oct. 7, 2013, with the passing of Larry Benoit of Duxbury, Vt. Larry, 89, died from complications after a brief bout with cancer.
By Duncan Dobie
Family members and close friends held a private service for Benoit on Oct. 14. Long-time friend Craig Jaques was a pallbearer. Jaques, an avid whitetail hunter who knew Benoit for 45 years, said all the pallbearers wore green-and black-checked hunting coats in honor of Benoit, a tradition Benoit had made famous years ago and that was continued by his sons Lane, Lanny and Shane, and many of Benoit’s close hunting friends.
Benoit never really sought public recognition, but it came to him through his passion for snow-tracking big bucks in the late 1960s and throughout the ’70s, when then-media giant Sports Afield ran several articles about his legendary exploits in Vermont and across New England.
His famed skyrocketed in September 1970 when Sports Afield ran a cover photo of Benoit along with the subtitle, “Larry Benoit — Is He the Best Deer Hunter in America?” It was the first time in the history of the magazine that a real hunter had appeared on the cover. It was a ground-breaking event.
It was a bold statement to insinuate that Benoit might be the best deer hunter in America, even in 1970. Today, there are probably hundreds of high-profile deer hunters across the country who would like to be considered deer hunting legends, but Benoit was the real thing. In those days, it truly meant something when someone was referred to as a living legend, and for all practical purposes Benoit earned that title.
What’s more, Benoit hunted and killed big bucks the hard way — on foot, in the Big Woods and without nary a hint of help from modern technology. No scent-reducing sprays or suits. No rangefinder, grunt call or deer scent. He tracked down and shot big buck after big buck with just the power of his own two legs and the iron sights on his rifle.
Several more stories were written about him in Sports Afield in the mid-’70s. Then, in 1975, Benoit published his classic book, “How To Bag The Biggest Buck Of Your Life.” Today, the book is a collector’s item, and those who own copies treasure them.
Two follow-up books were written by Bryce Towsley and printed by the publishers of Deer & Deer Hunting Magazine. Those books: “Big Bucks the Benoit Way” (1998) and “Benoit Bucks: Whitetail Tactics for a New Generation” (2003) are among the two most popular deer hunting books in history.
Benoit was a throwback to the time of true hunting heroes such as Fred Bear of Michigan or Fred Goodwin of Maine. When it came to snow-tracking big whitetails, Benoit was a pioneer.
“A purist in every sense of the word, it was often said of him that he knew what the deer was going to do before the deer knew,” said Ron Boucher, a well-known whitetail expert and hunter from Wallingford, Vt., who called Benoit a friend for 30 years. “He was to whitetail hunting what Ted Williams was to baseball and Dale Earnhardt was to auto racing. He was a one of a kind. They’ll never be another like him.”
Stubborn and sometimes cantankerous, Benoit did it his way. But his way was not always easy. There are many stories about him tracking a buck all day, having to give up at dark and coming back the next morning to pick up the trail again. There are also stories about him having to walk 10 miles or more back to his truck after being on a trail all day. Benoit never worried about getting lost. He seemed to have a natural built-in compass and homing instinct. If he was on a track when darkness fell, he’d simply head down the mountain, look for the nearest road and walk back to his truck.
Measuring trophy antlers held no interest for him. It was all about tracking and killing big deer. A “big” buck in his eyes had to dress out at heavier than 200 pounds. Many of his deer dressed out in the 250-pound range. In the old days, if it was bitter cold outside, he would sometimes bring deer right inside the house and skin them out in his living room.
Although it was a big blow to Benoit when Iris, his beloved wife of 66 years, died in 2008, Benoit enjoyed fairly good health most of his life was able to hunt each season through 2012. He seldom came home without filling his tag.
“During the past decade or so, he frequently hunted the big woods of Ontario because he loved the wilderness so much,” Jaques said. “You can still find some big woods in Maine to hunt, but for the most part, things have changed a lot in New England over the years. That’s why he started going to Canada on a regular basis.”
Like so many people who befriended Benoit through the years, Jaques’ initial introduction to the famous hunter was a memorable experience that left a lasting impression.
“I was hunting with my dad when I was 12 years old in 1964,” he said. “We had come out of the woods and were driving home after the day’s hunt when we saw this hunter walking down the road in the dark. My dad stopped and asked him if he needed a lift. He smiled and said, ‘Yes.’ That hunter turned out to be Larry Benoit!
“We drove him all the way home that night. Once we got there, he invited us inside where we met his wife, Iris. Even back then, the walls of his living room were covered with deer antlers and photos. Every square inch of space was covered. It was the most unbelievable thing I had ever seen. I talked about it to my friends for weeks. He was my hero from then on.”
Although Jaques and Benoit became very good friends and did many things together the next three decades, it took 35 years before Jaques got to hunt with the Vermont legend.
“I finally talked him in to going to Ontario with me in 1999, and he fell in love with the place,” Jaques said. “He saw wolves, eagles and plenty of wilderness areas where he could get lost. It was his kind of place.”
As mentioned, Benoit continued to hunt Ontario each year until recently.
“He inspired so many people,” Jaques said. “He was a humble guy, but when it came to tracking big bucks in the snow, he had no equal. He was a natural.”
Anyone who knew Benoit usually has a favorite story to tell about him. In my case, I was a budding young trophy hunter in 1975 when I heard about Benoit’s book, “How to Bag the Biggest Buck of Your Life.” I ordered the book as soon as it came out. My mother was in the hospital dying of a brain tumor when it arrived. While sitting next to her hospital bed for several long nights, I devoured Benoit’s book. I read some chapters again and again. Although I lived in the South, where we seldom had any appreciable snow, I dreamed about snow-tracking “Benoit style.” Benoit’s book helped me keep my sanity during a very sad time. It also taught me a lot about hunting big bucks and got me fired up. It inspired me to become a better hunter.
In addition to his trademark green-and-black-checked hunting jacket, Benoit romanticized snow-tracking with his traditional Remington Model 7600 .30-06 pump, a rifle that he made famous. Thousands of hunters bought that rifle because that’s what Benoit used. In 1999, Remington produced the Larry Benoit Commemorative .30-06 Carbine in a limited edition of 1,000 rifles. The guns sold well, and today are considered to be collector’s items, fetching considerably more than the original $1,000 price tag.
Benoit hated having to wear hunter orange in later years. It was unnatural for such a tuned-in woodsman. When laws changed and he had to wear orange, he did so with great reluctance.
“During my 30-year friendship with Larry, I saw a real spiritual side of him that went far beyond simply hunting,” Boucher said. “His love and respect for the natural world was immense. I’m sure that came from the fact that he had a lot of Indian blood running through his veins. He was an honest and common man, yet he affected so many lives through the years. He was a very spiritual man.”
Today, it seems we are inundated with celebrities and sports stars who are referred to as icons, heroes and legends. Benoit was a bona fide deer hunting icon and legend. Back in the day, the almost larger-than-life image of five or six big-bodied New England whitetails hanging on the front porch of the Benoit house with five or six hunters wearing green jackets posed underneath them in the snow was one of the most recognizable images in all of Vermont. To many older hunters who followed Benoit’s exploits, that image will be etched in our minds forever. Thanks for the inspiration, Larry. The flame will never be extinguished. Your spirit will always be with us.
— Duncan Dobie is a regular D&DH contributor from Georgia.
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